Anytime you reach the final table in a large multi-table tournament, you are sitting in one of the most important poker games in your life. Unfortunately, this fact is lost on many players. For many players, and I used to be one of them, just reaching the final table is seen as the goal. You toil and grind for hours through a tournament filled with emotional highs and lows until finally… you’ve reached the final table! *Exhale!* High fives are given all around. All is well in the world. We can finally relax and have some fun playing poker!
This approach to tournaments is a leak. If anything, tournaments should be approached in the exact opposite fashion. Rather than sweating and pulling your hair out of your head about whether or not you’ll reach the final table, remain mostly disinterested in that stuff. Instead, focus on making the right decisions and on nothing but the other players at your table.
If you are fortunate enough to make the final table, then you can switch into the tense, competitive zone that many of your opponents have just abandoned now that they’ve reached their goal. Making the final table was never reason to exhale in your mind. Playing perfectly at the final table until there are no decisions left for you to be made is your reason to exhale.
The reason final tables are so important is because of the sums of money being played for. The difference between winning a tournament and finishing, say, sixth, can be the difference between being able to absorb an impending mega-downswing versus going broke. It can be the difference between finally moving up and playing higher stakes or continuing to toil at your current stakes while waiting for that “big break”. It can be the difference between driving a Mercedes or driving a Kia. There is so much at stake at final tables that playing with anything less than complete focus and intensity can be a huge financial leak.
For example, let’s take Bill the online poker pro. Bill grinds tournaments nearly every day. A very capable player, Bill has managed to make $40,000 playing poker over the past year. Bill reaches a final table where first place is $45,000. Six players remain in the tournament. Bill is towards the bottom of the pack but still has a comfortable-enough stack of 20 big blinds. Sixth place in the tournament pays $10,000.
The next hour of Bill’s life will be the most important hour of the year in determining his income. Anything can happen for Bill here. He can finish 6th and have an annual income of $50,000 or he could win the tournament and have an annual income of $95,000. And it will all be determined over the course of about the next hour!
Do you see how important final tables can be?
For Bill, it is nothing short of imperative that he remain completely focused on his final table. If he should be the victim of a bad beat or cooler, there’s nothing he could have done about that. “That’s poker,” as they say. But one thing Bill simply cannot afford to do at this final table is commit a mistake. He must play perfectly. Everything beyond that is out of his control.
When playing at a final table, be aware of the magnitude of your decisions on your overall financial picture. A final table is not the place to make speculative all-in calls or four-bet bluff all-in preflop. Early in a tournament, if you want to make a play that you regard as being slightly bonehead, that is somewhat forgivable. After all, you weren’t worth that much in the tournament to begin with. But at a final table, you are worth a lot relative to your original buy-in. Save the speculative, cute plays for another day when it won’t cost you as much if it backfires.
At the final table, you bring nothing short of your solid A-game doing everything you can to preserve your chip stack and build it when the right situations present themselves. Let your opponents be the ones making loose calls out of position preflop, getting into blind-versus-blind battles for huge pots with light holdings, and making overbets all-in when the only hands that are calling you are ones that have them beat.
A final table is the most important hour of your year in terms of poker income. Make it last.